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The Threat of Being a Generalist Agent in a Specialist’s World

Insurance producers tend to fall into one of two categories with respect to their approach to the marketplace, usually engaging with prospects and clients as either a generalist or as a specialist. While there are advantages to both, it is critical for agencies and producers to reassess their positions due to dramatic disruptions in the marketplace.

Operating as a generalist has always had a strong appeal: not being restricted to certain industries or lines of business and being available to all opportunities in the marketplace. Even historically, insurance agencies have marketed themselves as a “One Stop Shop” where all insurance needs can be handled. What is common is that agencies with a lack of experience will gravitate towards less hazardous or less complex accounts. Whereas high hazard and complex accounts, by their nature, require specific expertise and that expertise is accompanied by a higher learning curve.

But now generalists must be aware that they face a number of serious emerging risks that were not present just a few years ago. Carriers are interacting more directly with customers, at lower cost and often with more consistent service levels. The once clear division between agent and carrier is diminishing, but agent commission structures remain largely unchanged. So generalists must ask themselves:

“Who is more likely to change from a traditional agent model to an internet based, or other alternative model?”

It is reasonable to assume that it is far less likely for those companies who need specialized expertise to move to an alternative distribution source, than those who perceive themselves as a “One Stop Shop” company.

Additionally, threats to generalists include the emergence of non-traditional players who are either entering or gaining greater market share in the insurance space. These include payroll companies, private equity/hedge funds, and software as service (SAS) companies. These start-up business models are becoming more difficult to describe or categorize since they are bundling multiple business products and services; but you can be certain that these nontraditional competitors will, at least initially, feed from the lower risk, less complex accounts.

Another drawback to operating as a generalist is that it is nearly impossible to gain the necessary knowledge and insight into a particular industry, which is necessary to differentiate from competitors.

Although it is understandable that it is not feasible for all agents and agencies to specialize in niches, it is advisable to explore the option.

If your demographics allow for specialization, then it is probably the best way to insulate and protect yourself from dramatic disruptions in the marketplace.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

Six Considerations for Disruptive Selling

We often hear about the retention rates within our industry when talking to agency owners and principals. While they fluctuate between agencies, they typically are somewhere between 87-92%, which on the surface appears pretty good. But why are retention rates so good? Is it because a majority of agencies are doing an excellent job, or is it a sign that few agents are able to disrupt the status quo?

We believe it is the latter. The fact is, most employers are at risk and don’t know it, and that’s why it is so important that producers gain the ability to disrupt the status quo.

So what makes a selling process disruptive? There are actually six important steps in the Disruptive Selling Process. As you master and leverage these steps, you will become more effective in disrupting the complacency of your prospects. One other comment: it’s important to remember that your prospects don’t want to change to you. In fact, they see you as a risk. Helping them realize that the greater risk is staying where they are is what selling is all about.

So how do you do that?

1. You must pique the curiosity of your prospect. We know that this is one of the most difficult steps in the sales process. Your prospects are overwhelmed and distracted. Which means that you must engage them with content and messaging that speaks to them. Your messaging must focus on the topics of most-importance to their survival, prosperity and ability to remain competitive in a challenging business environment. It can’t be about you, your agency or your “special programs.” They’ve heard all of that before, don’t believe, or don’t care, and they will tune you out.

2. You must cultivate awareness. You likely will have to help your prospects understand where they are, which is their current state or status quo. This is critical, because it ties in with the next step which is to,

3. Create contrast. Helping your prospects understand where they are versus where they could be. You will be better positioned to,

4. Shift their perception. In past trainings we’ve shared just how well this resonates; because we know the brain thinks in terms of contrasts. By creating awareness of a current state where they are unknowingly assuming risk, or buying insurance in a manner that is not in alignment with their goals and objectives, and juxta-positioning that with either the realization that they are actually at risk or with an approach to assessing risk and buying insurance, you are able to shift perception. In reality, shifting perceptions is just another way of diplomatically telling your prospects that they are wrong. And that can be uncomfortable.

5. Gain agreements. Agreements that the risk to remain in the status quo is too great and that there is less risk in changing to you. Producers too often skip this step and try to close the sale too soon. Think of agreements as the glue in the sales process. Without them, all your hard work may fall apart at the finish line.

6. Lastly, you must champion change. Championing change means that you will continue to lead your clients through the various stages of implementation and continually monitor and measure your progress. As their champion, you will help them realize their business goals and objectives.

Mastering and implementing the Disruptive Selling Process requires that you believe that your prospects are at greater risk when they are not privy to your leadership, and that may very well be something you have to believe yourself before you ask them to.

Interview Your Peers

Every office has a producer that excels and seems to effortlessly close deals; maybe it’s you or one of your colleagues. Or, perhaps, you know a business owner whose operations run smoothly and grows steadily despite market conditions. What are they doing well that you can learn from?

Taking time to sit with a peer, who is successful regardless of the industry they are in, can help you fine tune your own skills and help you reach your next level of success.

Often times, and it’s unclear why, people are afraid to ask their colleagues, “What’s in the secret to your success?” First off, it’s an incredibly flattering question. It shows that you’ve noticed that they are successful, but more importantly is what it says about you. By asking the question, you’re sharing that you’re striving to get better.

Once you’ve asked the question, you may want to spend some time following up with these questions:

• Have you used a consistent process or practice that seems to work best for you?
• What obstacles have you had to overcome to enjoy your current success?
• If you could get better at one thing what would it be, and why?

The more people you engage with this line of questioning, the more insights you’ll gain in how you can improve your own experience.

What’s Missing

As we move to the halfway point of 2016, what better time to evaluate the progress you’ve made thus far?

Some of the key concepts we’ve shared this year can be segmented into three different groups:

Strategies to attract new business
Strategies and tactics to make selling more effective
Ways to help you protect your existing book of business

Day to day we tend to get caught up in the needs of our clients and business, leaving little time to focus on our individual professional growth and personal development. As important as it is, focusing on remaining sharp and competitive can take a backseat.

With that in mind, now may be the perfect time to assess where you are year-to-date and what areas of your business practice you may want to improve upon. To help you organize your thoughts, here are a series of questions to consider:

Concerning the pipeline of opportunities

• Do I have a solid list of prospects to message each month?

• Am I sending purposeful emails that are piquing the curiosity of my prospects?

• Have I had enough first appointments over the past six months to allow me to walk away from the opportunities that aren’t a good fit, but still have enough quality ones to work on and meet my financial objectives?

When it comes to my meetings with prospects:

• Have the first appointments I’ve been on been with the quality of prospects I want?

• Am I advancing the sales process confidently?

• Am I identifying pain and raising levels of dissatisfaction with my prospects?

• Am I gaining agreements and reinforcing those agreements throughout the sales process and prior to sharing solutions?

When it comes to your existing clients, ask yourself:

• Am I confident that my top-20 accounts are seeing the value of our relationship?

• Can I clearly articulate the impact I’ve had on their business should I be asked?

• Have my top-20 accounts helped me get in the door or referred me a colleague?

There is a lot to think about here, but it’s critical that you ask yourself these questions. If you don’t you’ll likely never identify what you’re missing, and of course never put a plan in place to help yourself get better.

Your challenge: Take a few hours this week to answer these questions. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Do You Have Belief and Gumption?

One of the concepts we often discuss in training is leadership. You may agree that employers don’t know what they don’t know and as a result can make poor risk management and insurance buying decisions. But would you agree that you are effectively leading them away from their flawed and dangerous processes and towards your more effective and efficient process?

Bringing leadership to the sales conversation requires you to tell your prospects that they are wrong, which of course must be done with diplomacy and empathy. This is not something most sales professionals enjoy doing, regardless of how necessary it is.

There are two core traits that help successful producers manage and execute these difficult conversations. The first is Belief. Successful producers believe that what they have to offer is of value and cannot be easily replicated. They believe that absent a business relationship with them, their prospects and clients will be underserved. They in themselves and they believe in their process.

The second trait we often find in successful producers is Gumption. That stick-to-it-ness that is required as they help prospects navigate the complexity that exists in their business, the marketplace and in the risk management and insurance buying process.

The two go hand in hand. Without belief in what you do and how you do it, it’s virtually impossible to have the tenacity and gumption necessary to lead prospects and clients away from flawed decision-making decisions. And without gumption, you’ll often find yourself acquiescing to your prospects and their flawed decision making process.

A question to consider: Do you believe that what you have to offer is of unique value and do you have the gumption to defend it and lead my prospects to it?

If not, reach out and let’s talk about it!

Create Three New Email and Voicemail Scripts

Creating first appointments can be challenging. To overcome the challenges of a crowded marketplace and overwhelmed and busy buyers, it’s critical that the messaging you send to prospective clients pique curiosity and disrupt their way of thinking about buying insurance and managing risk.

You may find yourself struggling with developing messages that do this. One of the ways you can gain traction is to take time to develop new messages and voicemails around topics that are likely of interest to your prospects. Finding the content is easier than you think. Here are some places you can go to get fresh content that will help you develop interesting and effective emails and voicemails:

• LinkedIn Groups: Visit the groups your prospects are in. What are the topics of conversation? Which threads are getting the most attention? Once you identify what your prospects are talking about, use that to create a voicemail message or email script. It may start out sounding like: “I recently heard a number of business owners in the manufacturing space discussing ____, and I’m curious if this is an issue that you’ve found yourself trying to address.”

You can also get ideas for messaging from the Monthly Technical Webinars from Oceanus Partners. While the content is developed to help you gain or refresh your technical skills, with few modifications, it can be used to pique the curiosity of your prospects. For example, a recent technical training discussed how agents can differentiate themselves by creating enhanced submissions. Why not create a message for your prospects that talks about how poor submissions can actually limit their options in the marketplace?

As you know, business owners are proud of building their business and would be upset to learn that a poor submission will not only work against them from a pricing standpoint but it also could misrepresent their business to insurance companies.

Creating effective emails and voicemails doesn’t have to take a lot of time. We encourage you to set aside time each quarter to freshen up your messages and create new ones. This will not only engage your prospects, but keep you from getting bored with the same old scripts.

These insights are intended to inspire you to get creative and, more importantly, help you get in the door with leverage!

Read a Book

Setting time aside to devote to professional development can be difficult, but it is certainly necessary. The developments of the Kindle and IPAD have certainly made the ability to possess several books much more comfortable, especially when travelling to and from client visits.

So what should we read? Effective libraries tend to focus on two things: How to run your business better and how to help your clients better.

One of the best books of 2015 was The Challenger Customer, written by the same authors of The Challenger Sale.

The Challenger Customer provides sellers insights into buyers, not surprisingly there is a lot that sellers need to learn. While we’ve incorporated a lot of what we read in this book into our trainings over the past several months, we’ve only just scratched the surface. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you read it for yourselves.

Some key takeaways that you may find exceedingly helpful include:

- Understanding who in the organization you should target as your champion. You may be surprised it’s not necessarily the person most eager to work with you.

- How messaging to prospects has got to change. Creating effective messaging has become even more important than it was in the past. Your messaging has to create insight and teach your prospects something new about their business and how they may be focusing on the wrong issues and yes, even doing things wrong!

- Understanding how buyers buy. We know that there are more stakeholders at the buying table. Understanding how to engage with a team of buyers as well as how to build a consensus is going to be critical to your future success.

These takeaways are a few of the insights you’ll gain by reading The Challenger Customer. It is packed not only with great insights, but a ton of research. The book shares the research gained through the Corporate Executive Board, a multi-million dollar, multi-national insight and technology company. The CEB has the resources available to conduct surveys and studies that we can all benefit from.

If you’re looking for a great book which will provide you insights into how buyers buy today- The Challenger Customer is strongly recommended.

Let us know what you think!

Ask a Client for a Referral

It is always surprising to hear how few agents have a process for facilitating referrals from existing clients. Here are some statistics that may motivate you:

According to Nielsen Media Research, 92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew; and

People are four-times more likely to buy when referred from a friend.

According to Texas Tech, 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience, yet only 29% actually do.

Why is that? Likely because the salesperson isn’t asking them to! Finally:

According to Wharton School of Business, the lifetime value of a new referral customer is 16% higher, meaning that someone who is referred by a colleague or friend may actually spend more with you as a result of the referral.

So, with all of these great statistics in mind, doesn’t it make sense to work on developing a referral plan? Here are three ways you can incorporate a client referral into your everyday activities:

1. When you close a new account: The best time to ask for a referral is when you’ve just closed a new account. Your prospect, who is now a client, has seen firsthand the value in what you do. Why not ask them if they have any colleagues who would benefit from going through the same approach?

2. When you renew an existing account: What better testimonial than from an existing account? As you complete the renewal process, why not ask your client if they are familiar with some of the members of your prospect list? Share your list of target-clients. By sharing your list, you are taking the work out of making the referral yourself; your prospect doesn’t have to think of someone to introduce you to. They can make an introduction to someone they know, whom you’ve already identified as a great prospect.

3. When you help your client address an issue: Let’s assume you’ve just helped your biggest client with a big issue- why not ask them, “Do you think anyone within your industry may be at the same risk?” Follow that up with, “Do you have any colleagues who you’d like to help avoid this issue? I’d welcome the opportunity to assist them as well.”

These are just three ways you can develop referrals from your clients. Which one will you try today?